UN AIDE RAPS ROLE OF IMO IN SEA SAFETY

UN AIDE RAPS ROLE OF IMO IN SEA SAFETY

A U.N. official Tuesday criticized the world body's own watchdog agency for safety and pollution at sea, saying it lacked powers to do its job.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) found itself under fire as it hosted a London conference on pollution and maritime disasters.Keith Hindell, a U.N. information officer, said the IMO had failed to enforce security standards that it had itself set.

"The standards devised by the IMO may be sufficient but the implementation is poor," Mr. Hindell said in a speech that he indicated reflected the views of the U.N. Secretariat.

Some 152 countries make up the IMO, which sets international standards on safety of ships and pollution prevention.

IMO officials said safety of ships could only be ensured if there was commitment from all parties involved.

"Regulations can only do so much," said Secretary-General William O'Neill. "If they are not enforced, then they are worse than useless."

Mr. Hindell said the IMO risked being outflanked by less inhibited environmentalist groups unless it tackled the problem of enforcement. These bodies could make the IMO look "silly, powerless or even irrelevant," he said.

Some shipowners, flag states and ship classification societies were ''irresponsible, careless, inefficient, greedy or even corrupt," Mr. Hindell said.

He criticized the IMO for surrendering its authority by encouraging a system of port controls enforced by individual governments.

IMO officials rejected the criticism. "A lot of the accusations are very unfair," said IMO spokesman Roger Kohn.